France: would you rather work for Airbnb or a local competitor?


The international tech community has been obsessing over Silicon Valley darling Airbnb for so long that it’s easy to forget that the company founded in 2008 only began its international expansion in the fall of last year. Over the last few months, the company has been setting up local offices across Europe, where it rivals local competitors like Germany’s Samwer brothers’ Wimdu, Berlin-based 9flats and a handful of others.

Not like the others.

But despite the numerous competitors that have sprung up in various markets around the world, there are a number of characteristics that set Airbnb apart from the rest. Naturally, the fact that it was the original community marketplace for people to “list, discover and book unique places around the world” clearly makes its story more inspiring than the rest. Then, there’s also the hundreds of millions that the YCombinator-born company has received from big names like DST, Andreessen Horowitz and even Ashton Kutcher.
However, if there is one thing that will ultimately make it the place to work at and help it attract the talent it needs to grow, it’s probably not the investors or the idea (sure, they help). It’s the company’s culture.

Airbnb France offices include a bottle of wine and a retro phone. 🙂

Airbnb’s culture kit.

I recently found out that all the international Airbnb offices receive a “culture kit” so that all offices can have more or less the same culture and feel around the world. This kit includes a number of fun and inspirational goodies, including:

  • A tree wall sticker, to stick to the wall and hang polaroid photos of all the employees (image below)
  • Stick-on mustaches, to be sure nobody ever forgets Movember
  • Rachel Bostman’s What’s Mine Is Yours, a book about collaborative consumption
  • A guide to what Airbnb actually means by company culture

Culture and perks: subliminal encouragement.

Just like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and the likes, Airbnb wants people around the world to know when they walk into an Airbnb office. But beyond simple decorations, the company has clearly adopted some of the Google culture strategies, which also include hosting “fireside chats” 1x/week with external experts (sociologists, writers, entrepreneurs) in all international offices (similar to Google Talks, which have featured speakers from Lady Gaga to President Obama).
Bringing in perks like featured guest speakers, meals or even a full music recording studio à la Dropbox (see their jobs page) clearly helps attracting and retaining top talent. Facebook took on a similar strategy when building its team and developing its corporate culture, integrating everything from wall paintings by well-known graffiti artist David Choe to Wii sets and free transportation (for more details, read this). Some have even gone as far to say that corporate culture is more important than strategy (and of course there is also a counter argument).
Naturally, it’s important to keep the culture consistent across countries so that local offices don’t feel any less valued than the headquarters. And at a time when Zynga’s culture is coming under fire signaling a potential talent drain, it’s all the more important to be keep employees happy.

Nope, not Google but Airbnb France.

French benefits.

But just because US media only talks about French corporate life whenever there is a strike (or a series of employee suicides at Orange which ultimately forced CEO Didier Lombard to resign) doesn’t mean that all French employees are unhappy or unruly troublemakers.
From the outside, one may think that French unemployment benefits and public health care mean that employers actually have to strive even harder to keep employees happy. But as one could imagine, a number of perks à la française have been put into place.
I wrote a post back in 2010 about how some French employers provide restaurant coupons (which employees can use in most restaurants). But the list of “coupons” that employers provide to employees goes well beyond food. In fact, some employers (usually for companies of 50+ employees) help their employees cover the cost of culture consumption (books, movies, etc), vacation, sports/athletics and more.
Still, this financial contribution to employee “happiness” doesn’t translate into company culture. For one, these coupons – while allowing employees to have more freedom of choice in deciding how they want to use them – does not necessarily contribute to the work environment. While some people are critical of Google’s strategy to provide meals at work (because it encourages employees to arrive earlier and leave later), for example, it does actually contribute to the work environment.

Just me or does it look like the Airbnb France team eats dinner together? :p

Then again, these types of coupons are usually provided in larger companies, which is still the preferred place to work for many young graduates. Ask any French university student what their dream job is and they are more likely to answer “L’Oréal,” “LVMH,” or “France Telecom” rather than launching their own company.
But startups can change that – especially with company culture. I’m not saying that you need to hire a 5-star chef from the start. In fact, in France you probably don’t need much more than a really good coffee machine to get your employees to the office on time in the morning.
Now, for any French startups that want to share their office space or certain aspects of their corporate culture, be sure to get in touch:
Yes, a majority of French companies don’t start in garages like they do in Silicon Valley. But they are just as cool.  🙂
Credit: Thank you to the Airbnb France team for providing great photos and info on their French office life.